The Life of Christ

Mgr. Le Camus

CHAPTER VIII

THE TEMPEST ON THE LAKE AND

THE VISIT TO THE LAND OF GERGESA

JESUS' REPOSE ON THE EVENING OF A GREAT DAY THE DISCIPLES GAZE UPON HIM AS HE SLEEPS THE TERRIBLE TEMPEST THEY AWAKEN THE MASTER HE COMMANDS THE ELEMENTS, SINCE HE IS GOD - THEY APPROACH GERGESA THE AWFUL DEMONIAC SATAN'S WEAKNESS, HIS CUNNING, HIS WISH THE SWINE, RUSH INTO THE SEA THE CONSEQUENCES - THE DEMONIAC, BEING CURED, IS NOT TO FOLLOW JESUS, BUT TO EVANGELISE HIS OWN COUNTRY. (St. Luke viii, 2239; St. Mark iv, 3541; v, 120; iv, 35; v, 20; St. Matt. viii, 18, 239.4.)

THERE is nothing more delightful than a walk by the Lake of Genesareth when the sun is setting. The waves, one moment golden and purple, change again imperceptibly to blue, as the sun is veiled behind the hills of Tiberias and Magdala. Then the stars that glimmer in the firmament begin to be reflected in the broad sheet of water. The calm of nature, the freshness of the evening, and a certain fragrance of purity and poetry fill the soul with a vague feeling of comfort with which one is delighted as with a first sense of ideal joy.

After that great day of conflict with a growing opposition, and the miracles with which it was filled, Jesus in solitude gladly availed Himself of the sweet restfulness of the evening.

Proud of the glorious burden they were bearing, the Galilean boatmen made their bark glide smoothly over the peaceful waves. Near to the helm the Master had lain down, resting His head upon an oarsman's cushion, and, lulled by the noise of the oars as they moved in unison, He had just fallen asleep while gazing into the depths of the sky.

The disciples looked at Him with admiration and tenderness. Their faith was heightened more and more as they recalled, one after the other, the events of the day. Before them slept the Master of the demon, of disease, and of death. He had placed Himself under their protection, and in their love they were proud of watching over Him. We are happy when we see those whom we love and venerate calmly sleeping, especially when we think they owe their sleep to us. The light breathing that rises from their breast and comes forth from their lips comforts our own heart, and the calmness spread over the beloved brow whence have vanished the grave cares of life makes us forget the fatigue which is the price of their momentary happiness. How many, indeed, are those who, on the evening of such a day, would have been eager to offer to Jesus the gift of such wellearned repose and to see sleeping the man who accomplished, as if for pleasure's sake, so many amazing aand superhuman works!

While the disciples in a low voice were thus sharing their religious impressions, on a sudden the wind arose, announcing a most violent tempest. It is not unusual to see a terrible squall burst forth, even when the weather is perfectly clear, over these ordinarily tranquil waters. The numerous ravines which, on the north east and on the east, extend to the upper shore of the lake, are, as it were, so many dangerous defiles in which the winds from the heights of Hauran, from the tablelands of Gaulanitis, and from the summit of Mount Hermon, meet and then rush on together. These winds, bursting forth suddenly upon the little sea of Genesareth, scatter in their path most awful desolation. The fishermen's wherries are frequently engulfed. The best sailors, at such times, abandon all hope of reaching the northern shore of the lake, and hasten off toward the south, where the storm is always less severe.

The first gust of wind was soon followed by another; the hurricane was fearful. The boat, dragged into a whirlwind, took water on every side. The danger was extreme. The disciples, accustomed to the sea, beheld the danger, and were seized with fear.

But Jesus still slept.

Suddenly the boat seemed to sink. Thinking themselves lost, these poor Galileans no longer respected the Master's sleep, but awoke Him and said: "Master, doth it not concern thee that we perish?" while some cried: "Lord, save us: we perish." Jesus arose without emotion, looked upon the tempest, and, with a word of sovereign authority, bade the winds and sea to be calm. At His word, as if conscious of a bridle that governed them, the wind abated and the waves subsided. The disciples, more astonished by this latest act of power than by what they had hitherto witnessed, passed from the liveliest feelings of anxiety to those of the most perfect security. Joy, wonder, gratitude filled their souls; they no longer had fear of anything. But Jesus had not forgotten that, when He awoke, He found them agitated almost to despair. The recollection of this was painful to Him, for if it is true that in such circumstances prayer can be strong and deeply moved; it is not becoming that, when faith is in the heart, fear should usurp its place. "Why are you fearful?" He said to them. "Have you not faith yet?" Cæsar, in the midst of the storm, seizing upon the terrified pilot's hand and commanding him: "Keep on, fear not, thou bearest Cæsar and his fortunes!" may be the ideal of human greatness and of proud confidence in a lofty destiny; but Jesus, imposing not only His courage upon His disciples, but also His will upon the heavens and the sea in wrath, is ever the ideal of divine grandeur. His disciples, stupefied, said one to another: "Who is this, think you, that He commandeth both the winds and the sea, and they obey Him?"

Each new miracle they witnessed transformed and exalted, in their minds, the first idea they had conceived of Jesus. Unconsciously they beheld light increasing about this great figure until their perfect faith should confidently salute in their Master the Son of God made Man. Their cries of enthusiasm attest the progress already effected in their souls, and it is the logical result of this progress that will soon burst from the lips of Peter in the admirable profession of faith which is being formulated gradually in the depths of all their hearts.

Nothing could be more natural than the sentiments excited in the disciples by the events which had just taken place. It is man's to conquer by patience and by genius the forces of nature, and to be at all times superior to nature, even when nature has overpowered him. He launches forth upon the waves the bold, untiring vessel which needs not the stars of heaven to direct her course, and by her motive power advances straight to port despite the storm. This is the result of human labor, and he who attains it is only man. But if Jesus, standing in the midst of general terror, cries out to the unbridled winds and to the angry waves: "Peace, be still!" and thus suddenly reduces to a calm the tempest He has chided, then in the presence of this act of authority we must exclaim: "This is God!"

This act of supreme power on the part of the Savior on earth has not ceased to be repeated from the time it astonished the disciples on the lake of Genesareth. In the spiritual sphere, with like reality, Jesus, asleep in the bark of the Church, has been awakened often by the cries of the faithful in distress. At the very moment when all seemed lost, He has given the sign and the popular waves of revolution have been calmed on a sudden and the winds of human power and of pride have become still, when Christ's single word has not completely destroyed them. Peace has returned and the bark of the Church, sailing on again in triumph, despite all obstacles, has pursued her way through the course of centuries.

Jesus and the disciples disembarked on the other shore of the lake, in the land of Gergesa.1 Where was this exact spot? It is impossible to say, but we must look for it toward the southeast of the lake. There the cliffs approach more closely to the little sea, without, however, entirely overhanging it anywhere, probably because the sea has gradually receded from the steep rocks.

As He set foot upon the shore, Jesus saw a naked man running among the tombs on the side of the hill; he was sending forth wild cries and his aspect inspired pity as well as fright. He was an unfortunate demoniac.2 Antiquity knew not those admirable institutions of charity wherein Christianity gathers insanity in all its forms, seeking to quiet it when incurable, and insuring for it, if not a few moments of happiness, at least an honorable retreat and perfect security.

This wretched man, possessed of the impure spirit, had become a furious maniac. Attempts had been made in vain to confine him: he broke his chains and resumed his wild wanderings. He was accustomed to hide among the tombs3 which, no doubt, he believed to be the abode of demons and of roving spirits. Passersby were exposed to his furious attacks, and care was taken not to be in his way. His howlings were terrible to hear, and he bruised his body with small stones. Jesus, as He beheld him from afar, stopped him with a single word4 and commanded Satan to leave his victim. This order, given in a tone of highest authority, stirred the demoniac's soul to its depths, and put there, with a gleam of hope, a germ of faith. The woeful being knew he was in the presence of a man stronger than the demons. He stopped in his flight, ran suddenly toward Jesus, and threw himself at His feet to do Him homage.

It was then that the evil spirits, aware of the approach of a fatal conflict, responded to the Savior's command with this shout of insolence: "What have we to do with thee, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?" Then, as if avowing himself already vanquished by a superior power, Satan besought Him: "I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not." "Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?" This supplication, made in the name of God, gives rise to the opinion that the man and the demon spoke successively, the former mindful of the painful treatment to which he had been subjected, hitherto without gain, the latter eager peacefully to enjoy the prey he had seized upon. It is more probable, however, that the man had no part at all in this dialogue, but that the demon alone spoke. Satan writhes under the sway of Jesus, Who bids him go out of his victim. His resistance, his supplications, his fear of being tormented, and of returning into the pit of hell, his hesitation to depart from the unfortunate man whom he besets, his wish to enter into the herd of swine, the name he gives himself, contain something that astonishes us, who have no clear ideas of the kingdom of evil or of the peculiar condition of its occupants. Yet we perceive that, though he addressed Jesus as if he knew Him, Satan still has doubts of His superior nature and thinks it not impossible to deceive Him by his wiles. He tells his name, Legion5 the sum of physical and moral phenomena produced in the wretched demoniac was sufficient proof that a number of spirits were in possession of him6 and demands permission to enter into a herd of swine that are feeding on the mountain side. His plan is to cast upon Jesus, in this way, the responsibility of the disaster for which he is making ready. The owners of the animals will certainly become angered against Him, since their injury is to be effected by His authorization. Thus the vanquished demon counts on taking his revenge and on destroying forever the new Teacher and His doctrine. The artifice was vain; for the Savior, deriving good from evil, will prove that He knows how to make even Satan's malice contribute to the increase of His own glory.

Since He possesses supreme dominion over all creatures, nothing can interdict Him from abandoning to the demon the impure victims for which he asks. Moreover, are not these animals, the eating of which is forbidden by the law, frequently the occasion of an Israelite's fall, and, in particular, an insolent protest of paganism against the religion of Jehovah? Indeed, the Herodians, according to the stories of the rabbis, had composed small books and caused them to be disseminated among the people in order to undermine the law of Moses and to demonstrate the puerile character of its prohibitions. These theories, the natural result of the free thought and of the materialism of the times, gained ground each day. The Savior, therefore, found that there was some reason for punishing so flagrant a violation of the sacred precepts and for removing the scandal that the impious had placed in the way of the faithful. Pagans or Jews, the proprietors of the herd deserved the lesson.

Then Jesus said to them, "Go!" If He is Himself the Shepherd of the sheep, that lovable emblem of gentleness, kindness, and fidelity, He can permit Satan to take to himself the swine, the disgusting symbol of moral ugliness and of the vilest appetites of fallen nature. On the instant the demons pass out of the man who was possessed, and he is born into a new life; like a frightful hurricane they hurl themselves upon the filthy herd.

The animals, terrified, roused, overwhelmed by this tempestblast that strikes them, spurs them, and excites them, rush off in a huddled mass toward the summit of the mountain. There, deceived doubtless by an irregularity of the ground, victims of a panic terror, or driven on by the foul spirits, they reach the extreme end, where the cliff projects abruptly into the sea; they fall into the abyss and all are lost in the waves.

At the sight of such a disaster the drowning of two thousand swine the swineherds in despair hasten across the fields to the city to bear the news to those who were concerned. From all parts they hurry to the place to learn more of the catastrophe. In this way, contrary to the foresight of the demons, Jesus' plans are fulfilled. The swineherds, in their despair, became evangelical messengers, for they spread everywhere the news that an extraordinary man was in the land, exercising complete power over demons, and proving by his works the divine mission which He claimed.

As they arrived from the neighboring city or from the rural districts, all were surprised at such an event. At the feet of Jesus was calmly seated the demoniac cured. He had resumed the habits of social life. As they beheld him, calm, reasonable, clad in his garments, and in every way like his fellowmen, they all wished to know how these things had come about. Then astonishment gave way to stupor; and with a movement of respectful fear, like Peter after the miraculous draught of fishes, the Gergeseans besought Jesus to depart.7

God offers grace; He does not force it. Jesus had just sent forth a ray of divine light upon this earth impregnated with paganism. If a cold reception was accorded to it, it was because the hour of Providence had not yet come. He reentered the bark to return to Capharnaum.

As He was on the point of departing from the shore, the man who had been delivered, full of gratitude, begged Him to take him and to admit him as a disciple. "No," said Jesus, "return to thy house and tell how great things God hath done to thee." For it was well to leave as a steppingstone in this country, which the Son of God purposed to evangelize later on, not merely the rumor, but also the living proof of the passing appearance of the Messiah, and this proof was the man himself, who had been delivered from a legion of demons.

The Evangelist tells us that Jesus' intention with regard to this new proselyte did not miscarry. Though he was not received among the Master's disciples, the demoniac continued to be an ardent and untiring laborer of the Gospel. He preached in Decapolis, and aroused the liveliest hopes in Him Who had just revealed Himself by such amazing works.

When Jesus comes back to this country, His name will be known already and His teaching appreciated.8

Notes:

1 The three Synoptics, in different manuscripts, give Gerasa, Gadara, and Gergesa. It is certain that if Gerasa is on the spot where Burckhard and all geographers after him have placed it, it in no way corresponds with the indications in the Gospel. For Djerasch is fifteen leagues southeast from the little sea of Genesareth. On the other hand, if HumKeis now occupies the site of Gadara, it is almost as difficult to explain the Evangelist's narrative, since from HumKeis to the southern extremity of the lake is still a rather long distance. After traversing the plain that stretches as far as the Jarmuk, one must cross a wide and deep ravine in which this river flows, and finally, after a climb of an hour and a half, he arrives in ancient Gadara. Now, the scene in the Gospel took place on the shores of the lake. Jesus has scarcely disembarked when He beholds the demoniac coming from among the tombs that were near to the city. The swine were feeding not far away, and near enough to the sea to rush in headlong in a moment No one of these details can be understood, if we grant that the city was Gadara, situated three long hours distant from the lake. These considerations induced Origen to reject the two readings of Gerasa and Gadara and to adopt Gergesa, the ruins of which still existed in his day, near a precipice overlooking the lake (In Jo., i, 28, and ii, 12). We have sought the remains of this ancient town, polis arcaia, as the Alexandrian exegete called it, and we have found nothing answering his description. As for Kherza, discovered by Thomson, that is a solution that will be rejected by all who have been to WadiSemak. Besides the fact that, there is not in this place any trace of tombs, it is evident that before falling from Kherza into the sea the swine would have had plenty of time to recover themselves. It may be, however, that Gergesa belonged to the district of Gadara, which, according to Josephus (Bell. Jud., iv, 7, 3), was the capital of Peræa. In this case the two readings, Gergeseans and Gadaraneans, are correct, and the inhabitants of Gergesa may be called Gadaraneans, as the inhabitants of Buffalo are New Yorkers. As for the reading Gerasens, it is inexact, and results from the fact that Gerasa was better known than Gergesa. The copyists have here made a mistaken correction.

2 St. Matthew says there were two. It would be quite surprising that not only St. Luke, but also St. Mark, who forgets nothing that will make his narrative dramatic, should have neglected this detail. Hence some interpreters have supposed that in the first Synoptic there was an error on the part of copyists; these latter, seeing that the demons spoke in the plural, concluded that there must have been at least two demoniacs, and, presuming that they had discovered an inexactitude, immediately proceeded to correct it. It may be, however, that St. Luke and St. Mark spoke of only one demoniac because he was more terrible than the others or because he became a firm believer and perhaps even a disciple, and was, therefore, particularly famous in the primitive Church But St. Matthew viii, 28, represents the two demoniacs as very wicked and dangerous, and, moreover, the primitive Church does not seem to have known one any more than the other, for of the two demoniacs there is no trace in the Apostolic traditions. The most plausible solution is that which admits here, as in the case of the blind men of Jericho, a distraction on the part of the translator who read in the plural what was, in the original Aramean, in the singular. It is, besides, quite remarkable that the two demoniacs always speak and act, in St. Matthew, as if they were only one individual, which would be very surprising if there were two in reality.

3 It is sufficient to have visited the necropolises of Byblos, Sidon, and others, not to mention those of Jerusalem, to know that it was the custom of the Jews to build their tombs outside the city. Every large family possessed a cavern either naturally formed or cut in the cliff at great expense and carefully ornamented with: columns and precious marbles. In the interior walls were openings destined to receive the mortal remains of several generations.

4 By a careful study of the story of St. Luke and of that of St. Mark we are led to believe that the demoniac did not recognize Jesus, but that it was Jesus Who first saw and challenged the demoniac. From v. 29 in St. Luke and v. 8 in St. Mark and from the very significant conjunction gar purposely placed in prominence, we may conclude that if the demoniac saw Jesus and came and spoke to Him in so singular a tone, it was because Jesus had summoned him commanding the demon to leave him. This does away with all difficulties arising from the fact that the demoniac had of himself attacked Jesus in somewhat extraordinary terms, had uttered His name, had gone to Him Who did not speak to him, to beseech Him not to torture him, etc.

5 The Legion, recalling the Roman armies with their irresistible force, had become the symbol of supreme power. By this pretentious response the demon seeks to disconcert Jesus.

6 They probably exercised their influence successively upon the demoniac's soul and simultaneously on his body.

7 These Gentiles, conscious of their deep unworthiness, and yielding, it may be, to a superstitious impression, might have been in fear of greater evils from Him whom Heaven seemed to send them as a judge. (Cf. III Kings xvii, 18.)

8 St. Mark vii, 31.

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